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From flying Kenya's president to owning an executive airline-Captain Hussein Farrah

Pilot reveals which president was his best passenger.

President William Ruto boarding a plane. Photo: @MashillingiM

Colonel (Rtd) Hussein Farrah is one of the few esteemed pilots who have been trusted with the life of a Kenyan president in the air.

In 1983 and at the age of 33, he joined the league of presidential pilots during the reign of the late former President Daniel Arap Moi.

After one year of being a co-pilot, Farrah was promoted to a pilot. At the time, Kenya did not have a specialized mode of air transport for the Head of State and had to rely on the DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft which was acquired in the 1970s.


In 1990, the country upgraded its VIP transport with the formation of a VIP squadron and acquisition of the Canadian Dash 8 jet.

The Handover

When Farrah retired in 1992, he left from the league of presidential pilots, handing over the reigns to Colonel (Rtd) James Gitahi.

The outgoing pilot went on to establish Bluebird Aviation which offers air transport to private clients, government institutions as well as humanitarian organizations.

Gitahi would fly President Moi in the only available aircrafts until the government purchased the Fokker 70 Extended range presidential aircraft, making him the first captain of the plane.


Moi’s first flight on the KAF 308 aircraft was to an official function in neighbouring Uganda in 1996.

He operated the aircraft until 2010 when he retired having served both former presidents Moi and Mwai Kibaki.

Upon leaving the service, Gitahi joined his mentor Farrah at his aviation company where he works as the Chief Pilot.

“Every once in a while he would come to the cockpit and talk to us and ask us questions on national issues and on several occasions took action based on our advice,” Farrah said about Moi in a past interview.


According to Gitahi, former President Moi was a more lively passenger than his successor former President Mwai Kibaki.

He used to move up and down the aircraft and you could hear people laughing. I think he used to crack a lot of jokes and was very jovial. Kibaki was a bit laid back, I think he used to read a lot of newspapers,” Githinji recalled.

In case you are wondering whether Kenya’s presidential jet, Harambee One, has an office like US’ Airforce One, one of the pilots said that it only had a telephone which could help the head of state communicate with any of his staff of colleagues.

Although a normal plane of its kind can carry 70 passengers and crew, the Kenya’s presidential jet has a space for only 26.


Much of the cargo area is taken up by extra fuel tanks to increase its range. The F-70 has two, rear mounted, Rolls-Royce Tay power plants each generating approximately 13,000 pounds of thrust.



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